Title: Vignette: The Academy: Family Time
It was the sort of evening that Miles had given up on lately, the kind where he had almost his entire family with him. The Federation senate was on a surprise recess, ostensibly to give senators a chance to go home and speak with their constituents about the massing independence legislation, but Miles knew that was just a front. The truth was that the latest political spin was going against President Alexander, and he needed the time to regroup and figure out what the hell he was going to do about his little brother.
“Driven crazy by his desire for approval,” pundits said on their holo-shows, hosting psychiatrists and nodding their heads sympathetically.
“A sign of the president’s failure to lead within his own household, never mind the entirety of Federation space,” Alexander’s opponents said, although that was a tactic that Miles himself had avoided. He knew better than anyone that sometimes family was more complicated than you might want, and he wasn’t going to cast any stones that might lead people to scrutinizing his own son in even more miniscule detail.
“All a ploy to distract us from the fact that the person Kyle Alexander was supposed to have murdered was actually an interstellar psychic assassin under the president’s thumb!” the conspiracy theorists shrieked, and it was amusing and more than a little troubling that they were the ones who were closest to right this time around. Regardless, despite how President Alexander and his powerful political allies had tried to keep the situation quiet, Kyle Alexander was still news. Big news.
If one of the side-effects of that was that Miles got a much-needed reprieve from wrangling in the senate and the courts so he could come, quietly and secretly, to see his family, well. He wasn’t going to say no. It had been months since he’d seen his girls, and Claudia had looked tired and stressed when he first saw her. Miles shut his eyes for a moment, trying to purge the image from his mind.
“Yes, baby?” he said, turning and looking at his youngest daughter, tucked in close to his side. Yvaine was still small enough that she fit perfectly under his arm—Renee was starting to get tall, her head nearly reaching his shoulder now. His girls were growing up, and he was missing it. Again. Just like he had with Garrett.
It’s different this time, Miles told himself. The girls still had their mother, and Claudia understood the demands on Miles’ life. He called every day, he made sure they were someplace safe and beautiful, made sure they had access to other families with kids their own age, and he made their security staff as unobtrusive as possible. Basically everything he hadn’t remembered to do for Garrett as a child until his son was in a hospital. It’s different.
“When can I go to Perelan?”
Ah, right. His girls were Perel-mad right now thanks to a recent documentary done on their planet, and the fact that their cousin—the best analogue for Cody that any of them had found was cousin, since the girls didn’t think of themselves as his aunts—was going there right now had lifted their admiration to obsessive heights. Garrett was just finishing a call with Cody, actually, and each of the girls had had their chance to speak and ask questions. Talking to Grennson was a special treat for them, and the giggles had echoed through the house as they tried to learn how to say “hello” in Perel. Their voices weren’t anywhere near deep enough, and they ended up sounding more like purring catterpets than Perel, but they’d had fun.
He brushed her dark hair out of her face, eyes like his own staring sleepily up at him. Both his girls looked far more like their mother, but there were touches of his face here and there. “When you’re a little older, baby.”
“Like Cody’s age?”
Yvaine thought about that. “But he’s already old! It’ll be forever before I’m that old.”
Oh lord, if Cody was old now then that officially made Miles ancient. “Well, baby—”
“Renee! Wash that out of your hair right now and get to bed!”
“Mom!” Renee protested, walking backward into Miles’ study even as she kept arguing. “I’m just figuring out how to make it look like quills, it’s not like it’s dangerous!”
Miles hoped not. His daughter’s long hair was separated into thousands of waving strands, held aloft with what looked like a mild electric charge coming from her jury-rigged headband. She hadn’t stopped there, though. The strands looked…oh, what was the old Earth word…shellacked.
“You’re supposed to be sleeping, not experimenting with new hairstyles,” Claudia said as she followed her daughter into the room. Yvaine was already on her feet, poking curiously at her sister’s low-hanging locks. Renee batted her hand away, which naturally made Yvaine even more determined to bury her fingers in the slender spikes. “Both of you,” Claudia added as she caught sight of their youngest.
“Mom, quills are an important part of Perel physiology and interpersonal communication, this is for science,” Renee insisted, still swatting at Yvaine.
Claudia crossed her arms. “You’ve been listening entirely too much to Tiennan. Miles,” she turned to him expectantly and he knew he had to step in. Renee also stared at him, looking prepared to argue.
“Quills are an important means of expressing emotion to Perels,” Miles said, standing up and looking Renee’s efforts over. “But they have to be mobile in order to be effective. Right now a Perel would probably think you were offended or shocked, and you wouldn’t want to leave them with that impression.” He squeezed Renee’s shoulder. “You can experiment more with it after classes tomorrow, honey. Right now you need to get clean and get to bed.”
“And you can do it to me tomorrow!” Yvaine cried. “I want quills too! Mommy, make Renee do it for me too!” Her sister didn’t look too enthusiastic at the thought.
“Additional test subject,” Miles whispered to her, and then Renee smiled.
“Good point. Okay,” she said. “I’ll cleanse and go to bed. Dad, you have to come say goodnight, okay?”
“I will, honey.”
Claudia sighed but accepted her daughter’s partial acquiescence. “Go on, then.” The girls ran down the hallway toward their rooms and Miles reached for his wife’s hand, stepped close and kissed her gently. “Quills are pretty mild in the grand scheme of things,” he offered.
“I suppose,” she replied, winding her arms around his waist. “As long as she doesn’t use toxic chemicals on her little sister, I’m happy. I’m just…I don’t know, a bit tired.”
He hugged her tight. “I know.”
“And I feel terrible complaining to you about anything when you’ve got so many more things to worry about than I do, Miles, and I’m so happy that you’re back with us. I just wish you could stay a little longer.”
“I feel the same way.” A week here and there, a standard month this time around—it still wasn’t enough, but Miles couldn’t relinquish his responsibilities. He had millions of people to think about, to fight for, and he couldn’t give that fight up. Not yet. “I’d be with you if I could. I’d bring you back with me if it was safe.”
Claudia smiled and kissed him again. “I know.” She sighed and stepped back. “I’m going to go check on the girls, they’ve already said goodnight to Garrett. Meet you in bed?”
“I’ll be there soon.” Miles watched her go and flexed his hands, feeling the extra warmth from her body dissipate into nothingness. He ached to go after her, but he did have a few things to talk to Garrett about first. Miles sat back down and began parsing through the news feeds flashing across his tab, sending his personal assistant notes about the ones that could be relevant to their cause.
A few minutes later Garrett came into the study and flopped down onto the couch next to Miles. “I take every bad thing I ever said about myself back. I was a saint as a child. An absolute saint.”
“And what is it that makes you saintly now?” Miles asked. “Because I seem to recall some distinctly wicked moments.”
“Maybe, but I’ve never hijacked an ambassador’s ship controls for the sake of performing dangerous experiments in my bedroom. Acid, Dad. Ten was experimenting with acid. Ze also completely rewrote the power supply conduits in order to facilitate localized zero-gravity conditions. No, you’re right, I’m not a saint, my kid is. And so is Jason for not throwing Ten in the brig when he found out.”
“Diplomatic vessels don’t have brigs.”
“I’d jury-rig one just for hir.”
“Ten adores you.”
Garrett exhaled loudly. “Ten adores my husband, ze only respects me.”
“I think in the long run, respect is going to get you further.”
“I think in the long run, the only person capable of exerting any influence on Ten is Cody. Thank fuck for that, too, because otherwise ze’d probably invent something that would blow up the universe just to see if ze could.”
“Don’t underestimate your own influence,” Miles advised him. “Being there for hir as a family is important, especially since ze’s never really had that before. You matter, kiddo.” Before Garrett could prevaricate, Miles changed the subject. “When’s Jonah getting in?”
“Sometime tonight, late.”
“It’ll be good to see him.”
Garrett scoffed. “You’re telling me. I’m glad he feels useful now but I really hate that it took sending him out across the universe to manage that.”
“He’s a Drifter in his bones, Gare. He’s got a wanderlust that has nothing to do with not being happy with you,” Miles assured his son. “I didn’t get a chance to bring this up earlier, but any word from Tamara?”
“She’s been in touch with Admiral Liang, but nothing new. Kyle’s still destined for prison, it’s just a question of which one. Either way, though, I’ve got someone on the inside.”
“Good,” Miles said. “Because as much as I like fighting the good fight, I’d like to retire again one of these days. We’re going to need Kyle Alexander if there’s ever going to be anything approximating peace again.”
“I know. I’m on it.”
“You put me to shame, kiddo.”
“Well, I am brilliant,” Garrett said with a mocking grin.
“I know you are.” Miles leaned in and kissed his son’s forehead, politely ignoring the surprise on Garrett’s face, then stood up. “See you tomorrow.”
The girls were already in bed when Miles got to their rooms, Renee’s hair freshly cleaned and Yvaine barely able to keep her eyes open. He kissed each of them on the cheek, turned the lights down and watched a dim hologram of the forests of Perelan spring into existence around them. Fluorescent beetles crawled along the floor, and a bright blue one slowly made its way up a tree that sprouted from the middle of Yvaine’s bed. She hummed happily as she watched it.
“Was this your idea?” Miles whispered to his older daughter.
“Yeah. Do you like it?”
“It’s beautiful, honey.”
“I want to go there someday,” she said. “Cody gets to do everything cool.”
Oh baby… If only she knew. “Someday,” he promised. “You’ll see it for yourself.”
“Thanks, Dad.” He left them to be lulled to sleep by the gentle movements of beetles and headed for his own bedroom, where Claudia was waiting for him in bed, reading an antique paperback. She was just as beautiful as when he first met her, almost twenty years ago now. Regen kept her youthful, but Claudia still had the same spirit, the gentleness and the strength that had attracted him then, the first time he fell for a woman since his first wife.
Claudia looked up at him and smiled. “Come to bed.”
“I still have to clean up.”
“Clean up after,” she suggested, setting her book aside and stretched suggestively.
He could do that.